Kristen Rogheh Ghodsee (born April 26, 1970) is an American ethnographer and Professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania known primarily for her ethnographic work on post-communist Bulgaria as well as being a contributor to the field of postsocialist gender studies.
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- But the problem for the anti-communists is that their general premise can be used as the basis for an equally good argument against capitalism, an argument that the so-called losers of economic transition in eastern Europe would be quick to affirm. The US, a country based on a free-market capitalist ideology, has done many horrible things: the enslavement of millions of Africans, the genocidal eradication of the Native Americans, the brutal military actions taken to support pro-Western dictatorships, just to name a few. The British Empire likewise had a great deal of blood on its hands: we might merely mention the internment camps during the second Boer War and the Bengal famine. This is not mere ‘whataboutism’, because the same intermediate premise necessary to make their anti-communist argument now works against capitalism: Historical point: the US and the UK were based on a capitalist ideology, and did many horrible things. General premise: if any country based on a particular ideology did many horrible things, then that ideology should be rejected. Political conclusion: capitalism should be rejected.
- In addition to the desire for historical exculpation, however, I argue that the current push for commemorations of the victims of communism must be viewed in the context of regional fears of a re-emergent left. In the face of growing economic instability in the Eurozone, as well as massive antiausterity protests on the peripheries of Europe, the “victims of communism” narrative may be linked to a public relations effort to link all leftist political ideals to the horrors of Stalinism. Such a rhetorical move seems all the more potent when discursively combined with the idea that there is a moral equivalence between Jewish victims of the Holocaust and East European victims of Stalinism. This third coming of the German Historikerstreit is related to the precariousness of global capitalism, and perhaps the elite desire to discredit all political ideologies that threaten the primacy of private property and free markets.
- "A Tale of "Two Totalitarianisms": The Crisis of Capitalism and the Historical Memory of Communism", History of the Present (2014)
Taking Stock of Shock: Social Consequences of the 1989 Revolutions, with Mitchell A. Orenstein (2021)
- Taking Stock of Shock: Social Consequences of the 1989 Revolutions. Oxford University Press, 2021. ISBN 978-0197549247
- Without an accompanying welfare state in which social programs funded by a progressive income tax redistribute from the rich to the poor, capitalism can be a deeply unfair system where a small, well-connected elite captures a majority of the wealth and power, and not necessarily through meritocratic processes.
- p. 192
- Many former socialist citizens, as well as political leaders like Vladimir Putin, believe that the chaos and pain of the transition process was deliberately inflicted by the West on its former enemies, as punishment for the East's long defiance of liberal democratic norms and market freedoms.
- p. 195
- In the mortality belt of the European former Soviet Union, an aggressive health policy intervention might have prevented tens of thousands of excess deaths, or at least generated a different perception of Western intentions. Instead, Western self-congratulatory triumphalism, the political priority to irreversibly destroy the communist system, and the desire to integrate East European economies into the capitalist world at any cost took precedence.
- p. 196
Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism (2018)
- Stubborn and perhaps a bit naive, I persisted and spent the late 1990s living and dong research in Eastern Europe, watching firsthand the slow and painful transformation of a state-owned economy into one of unfettered free markets. I observed that women were more likely than men to express a longing for the state socialist past because of the many tangible benefits women lost with the coming of democracy and capitalism. The privatization and liberalization of the economy had disproportionately affected women who lost access to once generous social safety nets that allowed them to more easily combine work and family responsibilities before 1989. Since those early days interviewing chambermaids and receptionists on the Black Sea, I have spent the rest of my career studying the lived experience of state socialism and the effects of postsocialism on ordinary lives in Eastern Europe.
- p. xv-xvi
- Throughout much of the twentieth century, state socialism presented an existential challenge to the worst excesses of the free market. The threat posed by Marxist ideologies forced Western governments to expand social safety nets to protect workers from the unpredictable but inevitable booms and busts of the capitalist economy. After the Berlin Wall fell, many celebrated the triumph of the West, cosigning socialist ideas to the dustbin of history. But for all its faults, state socialism provided an important foil for capitalism. It was in response to a global discourse of social and economic rights—a discourse that appealed not only to the progressive populations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America but also to many men and women in Western Europe and North America—that politicians agreed to improve working conditions for wage laborers as well as create social programs for children, the poor, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled, mitigating exploitation and the growth of income inequality. Although there were important antecedents in the 1980s, once state socialism collapsed, capitalism shook off the constraints of market regulation and income redistribution. Without the looming threat of a rival superpower, the last thirty years of global neoliberalism have witnessed a rapid shriveling of social programs that protect citizens from cyclical instability and financial crises and reduce the vast inequality of economic outcomes between those at the top and bottom of the income distribution.
- p. 3-4
- Older citizens of Eastern Europe fondly recall the small comforts and predictability of their life before 1989: free education and healthcare, no fear of unemployment and of not having money to meet basic needs. A joke, told in many East European languages, illustrates this sentiment:
In the middle of the night a woman screams and jumps out of bed, eyes filled with terror. Her startled husband watches her rush to the bathroom and open the medicine cabinet. She then dashes to the kitchen and inspects the inside of the refrigerator. Finally, she flings open the window and gazes out onto the street below their apartment. She takes a deep breath and returns to bed.
"What's wrong with you?" her husband says. "What happened?"
"I had a terrible nightmare," she says. "I dreamed that we had the medicine we needed, that our refrigerator was full of food, and that the streets outside were safe and clean."
"How is that a nightmare?"
The woman shakes her head and shudders. "I thought the Communists were back in power."
- pp. 12-13
Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism (2017)
- Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism. Duke University Press, 2017. ISBN 978-0822369493
- Since the right will attempt to construe any move toward serious redistributive policies as a return of the great mustachioed Soviet monster, it is essential that those fighting to rein in the excesses of capitalism promote a more realistic view of twentieth century state socialism, which cannot be reduced to Stalinism. Despite the many shortcomings of really existing socialism, the communist ideal (even in its most undemocratic forms) was based on a humanistic, egalitarian vision of the future, one that may have been corrupted and badly implemented in practice, but which is nevertheless opposed to the racist, xenophobic nationalism of the far right (ideals that were quite effectively realized during World War II). Furthermore, we have to accept that really existing democracy, especially as experienced in the former Eastern Bloc countries after 1989, was far from the democratic ideal. Like the example of Americans bringing democracy to the penguins, post-Cold War democratization served as a tool to promote the economic interests of Western elites who stood the most to gain from access to previously inaccessible consumer markets and vast new populations of cheap labor.
- p. 198
- Finally, to prevent the ascendance of a resurgent far right, we need to get past our red hangover and recognize the pros and cons of both liberal democracy and state socialism in an effort to promote a system that gives us the best of both. Like the sudden collapse of communism, the days of liberal democracy may be numbered, and the West could soon face its own equivalent of November 9, 1989. Twentieth-century communism failed because the ideals of communism had been betrayed by the leaders who ruled in its name. When the reforms came, they came too late: ordinary people had already given up on the system. Today, democratically elected leaders too often betray the ideals of democracy and those who are calling for reform may also be too late. Citizens across Europe and the United States have lost faith in the system, and global capitalism's final crisis could be just around the corner. Perhaps in this moment of dramatic rupture, we will have the opportunity to rethink the democratic project and finally do the work necessary to either rescue it from the death grip of neoliberalism, or replace it with a new political ideal that leads us forward to a new stage of human history.
- p. 200